Before August 30, 2016, getting stitches at age seven was the most time Emmie Smith had ever spent in a hospital.
That morning, she swapped her plaid shirt and jean shorts for a gown, tucked her hair into a cap, and prepared for surgery to conform her anatomy to the gender she already identified with: woman. In the operating room with her was National Geographic photographer Lynn Johnson. She and Emmie hoped they could demystify the procedure by documenting it, close-up and unflinching. “It was stressful and scary at times, but it almost created a mission other than just recovery,” Emmie says. “We were making something together.”
It had been a year and a half since Emmie had first come out as a transgender woman on Facebook. Telling her family and friends had been an enormous relief. “I’m not sure I could have taken another few years of being closeted,” she says.
Still, it was a challenging time for her family. Her mother, Reverend Kate Malin, is a prominent figure in their Massachusetts town, and her identical twin sons Caleb and Walker were familiar fixtures at her Episcopal church. A month after Walker came out as Emmie, Malin stepped out from behind her pulpit and walked into the aisle. Halfway through her sermon she decided it was time to address the change in her family.
“As most of you know, Bruce and I have three children,” she began. “Caleb and Walker, who are 17, and 13-year-old Owen. Walker’s new name is Emerson, and she prefers Emmie or Em. She’s wearing feminine clothing and makeup and will likely continue to move in the direction of a more feminized body.”
Kate nervously revealed her struggle to the attentive New England crowd. “I feel broken much of the time,” she confessed. “I’ve wanted to run away, and I’ve prayed for this child that I would gladly die for, guilty for how much I miss the person I thought was Walker and everything I thought might be.”
After the sermon, the congregation engulfed her in a hug. Then they moved to offer words of support to the sandy-haired 17-year-old sitting in the pews. In the first of many awkward mistakes the family would later laugh about, it was Caleb—Emmie’s identical twin.
After that sermon, a “new normal” set in. On a Saturday night soon after, they had their first “out” outing. Kate took Emmie—whose hair was still short and chest was flat—to buy a prom dress at David’s Bridal. She feared someone would point or laugh, but the crowds of brides and bridesmaids in the dressing room offered only compliments.
Though she hadn’t initially considered surgery, after a couple of months Emmie had grown frustrated by the tucking and taping required to fit into women’s clothes. That fall, her senior year of high school, she decided to do it.
But waking up after the operation, Emmie felt none of the immediate relief she’d expected. In the recovery room her earbuds played a soothing loop of Bon Iver and Simon and Garfunkel, but it didn’t drown out her disappointment and fear. In retrospect, she thought, hadn’t life before been OK?
It wasn’t until months later, when she was home and could walk and sit again, that Emmie knew she’d made the right choice. “If you’re not living freely that’s time wasted, and I felt my time was wasted pretending to be a boy,” she says. “It was the best decision in my life.”
Now, halfway through a gap year, she’s applying to college theater programs. It’s strange, she says, knowing that her future classmates may watch Johnson’s film and learn the most intimate details of her life. She’s hopeful that her participation will evolve the public’s understanding of gender reassignment surgery. “It’s not science fiction or mythology,” Emmie says. “It’s what happens to women just trying to be at peace with themselves and their bodies.”
Hi everyone! In this video I will be discussing my transition from male to female. There will be pictures during this video, though not many since I avoided the camera at all cost pre-transition. So, I mainly only have school photos.
So, I am a transgender / transsexual person, meaning I was born in the wrong body, it is not a mental illness like some people may think. In my case, I was born a male, lived the first 22 years of my life as one, but then made the transition to become who I really was, a female. I came out and started seeing a therapist in late 2010, been on hormones since late 2011, lived full-time since 2012, and had sex reassignment surgery in early 2013. So, it took about a year and a half from hormones to SRS.
I wouldn’t say that I am completely female though. I call myself a hybrid. I’d say 60% female and 40% male. So, I’m quite androgynous. Not with my appearance, but with some of my personality. While I identify with both male and female genders, there are times I identify with neither. Feeling neither male or female. I don’t know what I am a lot of times.
So, as early as I remember, I always wanted to be a girl. I recall when I was under 10 years old, my mother was watching this movie on cross-dressing men, and I happened to see part of it and realized that’s what I wanted to do. When I became a teenager and started to go through puberty, it was an absolutely awful experience. My body was changing in a way I didn’t want it to, and I was terrified and hated myself.
I remember seeing a documentary on TV about an older male to female that was about to undergo surgery and I was so fascinated by this and amazed that it was possible to change your sex organs. I kept saying to myself, this will be me when I get older. And, sure enough, 10 years later, her I am.
I knew then what I was, and what I needed to do to be happy, but couldn’t tell anyone. I was so reserved that not even my family really knew who I was. This is the moment that I’ve heard a lot of people think they’re gay or lesbian. And, when they come out and live that way, life may be a little better, but still isn’t right. That is when they realize that it’s something a lot more. For me, I never went through a period that I thought I was gay. I was attracted to females, and still am, so I’m a lesbian.
I hated myself so much, whenever I would look in the mirror I would see an ugly disgusting slob. People would say I was a handsome young man, but I hated when they said that because, I was not a man, and I didn’t see myself as handsome. Whenever I would take a photo of myself or look in the mirror, I would become so depressed and cry. I just didn’t want to live because there was no life worth living if I couldn’t love myself. I would hope and wish each day that I could wake up in the morning as a female, with the right body. I hated how I looked, my body, and of course the male parts I had. I just wanted to get rid of it.
When I turned 18, the feeling of wanting to be a female seemed to almost diminish. I think this was due to the fact that I was focusing on other matters that were extremely important to me. The thought of it was no longer something I wanted to do. I still wasn’t confident in myself, hated who I was, but was somewhat ok with being a male.
It was when I turned 20 that the feelings started to return, even stronger than before. And, I knew then I had to do something.
I started doing plenty of research, watching tons of other people on YouTube that were also male to female that we already living full-time. I remember just how much I wanted to be full-time as well, but I couldn’t express my feelings, since I didn’t know how. I was scared about how people would react when they knew. And thought I would be an ugly female that couldn’t pass. I was terrified that people would look at me weird and see me as a guy dressing as a woman. I had facial hair that was very dark and visible, even after I shaved. I was concerned about my masculine voice, facial features, as well as the Adam’s apple. I just didn’t see how I could see myself as a female.
I couldn’t take it anymore and had to tell my grandmother. It was on August 1st, 2010 that she found out. However, my method of telling her was having her guess. She knew something was up by how I was acting the past few days, so we started to have a conversation and the first thing she, and everyone who later found out, thought was I was gay. I said, “No, it’s a lot more complex than that.” Then she guessed transgender. Luckily for me, everyone has been very supportive and accepting of me. This is not always the case for transgender people. It’s a very sad thing when not even your own family can accept you. There is no excuse for that.
So anyway, my grandmother was already familiar with transgender from watching television shows. But, the one thing she said back then was, “I think you should have sex with a girl first and then make that decision.” And, that was just because she didn’t know at the time that it has nothing to do with sexual orientation. A lot of people can be confused by this saying things like, “If you’re still attracted to women, why not just stay a man?” Which is ridiculous since it has nothing to do with sexual orientation. The ‘T’ in ‘LGBT’ doesn’t really belong since the others are sexual orientations, and transgender is not.
Anyway, I started seeing a gender therapist shortly thereafter. I remember saying that I didn’t want to take hormones until after surgery since I didn’t want to be on medication. Plus, there are always dangers with taking testosterone blockers and estrogen. But, sometime later I decided that I wasn’t happy living as a male anymore and want to start living full-time but wanted to be on hormones first. So, in May 2011, I started taking testosterone blockers, and in September 2011 started taking estradiol. I’ll have a video dedicated to hormones since there is a lot to talk about. [Hormones]
In December 2011, I started looking for clothing. It was very difficult at first since I felt as though it was awkward for people to see a male looking for female clothing and I was terrified and embarrassed. But, during that time, I looked androgynous, people couldn’t tell if I was male or female. All I wore as a guy was the same clothes over and over again. I only had like three different outfits. All grey, all blue, and all black. That’s all I wore. I mean, now I wear all black, but that’s different.
I began to dress and when January 2012 came around, I was living full-time. My first day out in female clothing and makeup was terrifying. I didn’t think I could pass, but I did, and so much has changed since then.
I created a brand new identity for myself, changing my first, middle, and last name, so I could leave that old identity behind. My family was upset I was changing my last name and my new first name was nothing like my male name. I legally changed it in April 2012, and later the sex on my license, health insurance, those sorts of things. It was funny, before I changed the health insurance, I went to my doctor and the woman that schedules the future appointments looked at the paper that said ‘M’ for the gender on it and asked, “Is this right?” I just laughed and was like, [nod]. Because at the time I still was legally a male, so it had to stay. It was embarrassing too, but I changed it to female so I don’t have to worry about that anymore.
It was so exciting for me to finally start living the life I was always meant to have. But, something was still not right. I felt like I needed to look perfect so no one would know I was born a male. I was trying to impress people with my femininity. Some of that was due to the fact that I was still trying to figure things out and find my style. And, this took about six months, and then I found what works for me and makes me feel beautiful, which just so happens to be this alternative/Goth look, and it finally felt right. Though, this look probably isn’t the best for me due to the fact that it draws a lot of attention, and I don’t like that since it really messes with my anxiety. But, I do have the attitude that I didn’t care what people think anymore about me. I can go out without any makeup or feminine attire and not really care. And, I seem to completely pass too so that is a great thing.
Lastly, in March 2013, I had SRS (sex reassignment surgery) and removing the Adam’s apple. So, I don’t have to deal with either one of those things anymore. I will discuss the surgery in much greater detail in a different video. [SRS]
I don’t think anyone would really recognize me now after how much I have changed. If anyone did know me from back then, please get in contact with me. That would be very interesting. But, looking back at older photos really upsets me. You can the see the emotional struggle I had with myself, and others I just look so mentally disturbed due to my other issues. If it wasn’t for making this transition, I would’ve never been able to love myself and I don’t know where I would be. Because, now I do love myself more and can express myself easier than I was able to before. I cannot imagine life now as a male. I can’t even remember it really because it was so difficult to function.
So, that sums up my transition from male to female. I hope this video was informative and helpful. Thanks for watching!